Eric Lindros speaks to the press Wednesday Sept. 10, 1997. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Dan Loh
LONDON, Ont. - Eric Lindros said after announcing the end of his NHL career Thursday that he had one regret.
"I might have practised stickhandling with my head up a bit more," he said with a chuckle.
Lindros, hampered by concussions throughout his 13 years in the NHL, went out in style by donating $5 million to the London Health Sciences Foundation. It is believed to be the largest one-time donation by an athlete in Canada for charitable purposes, a foundation spokesman said.
"It's a small gesture compared to what the people up here gave to me," Lindros said, glancing at the doctors sharing the head table with him during a news conference at the London Hunt and Country Club.
Combining the generous donation with his retirement announcement was classic Lindros, who made a career of doing things his own way.
The 34-year-old centre, who was born at London Health Science Centre's Victoria Hospital, was in the city to attend a dinner honouring Dr. Peter Fowler, co-founder of the centre's Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic and the surgeon who often treated Lindros for his hockey-related injuries.
"Eric's generosity is a tremendous boost to the dedicated team of researchers and health care workers at London Health Sciences Centre," said Fowler.
Lindros lauded Fowler's work.
"I believe him to be simply the best," said Lindros. "Not only is he a world-class surgeon, but also tops as a teacher and inspiration to other doctors."
Lindros said he decided months ago that his NHL days were over.
"I felt strong about this in my heart and in my mind all summer long," he said. "As soon as the playoffs ended last year I felt real comfortable that this was the direction I wanted to take and it was time to do so."
Lindros stressed that it was a day to honour doctors and health care workers rather than a day to celebrate his NHL career.
The $5 million will support hospital programs including the clinic.
Lindros finished his playing career with 372 goals and 493 assists for 865 points, while being assessed 1,398 penalty minutes, in 760 NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars. Injuries restricted him to an average of only 58 games a season but he was an impact player when in his prime.
"It's the way things unravelled, the way things rolled," he said of the setbacks along the way. "You can't control when your wrist is going to fall apart, when the knee is going to have a second-or third-grade (sprain) or when your shoulder is going to be needing surgery and three months of rehab.
"You just don't know when these things are going to take place. I enjoyed my time playing. I had a great time playing. I played with the best, I played against the best. It was a blast. It really, truly was. I enjoyed myself immensely. My respect for those players runs deep."
Former Flyers teammate John LeClair called Lindros a "tremendous talent and a dominating player."
"He had it all, size, strength and finesse," LeClair said in a statement. "It is unfortunate injuries cut his time in the NHL short, but he had a great career and left his mark on the game."
Matthew Barnaby also had high praise for his former Rangers teammate.
"Eric was the player that I hated to play against, but also the guy that I absolutely loved to play with," he said through the NHL Players' Association. "In my opinion, Eric was the most dominating player I faced during my time in the NHL, and was part of the best hockey line I ever went up against."
Some of his best hockey was in Canada's colours. He was on two teams that won world junior championships, skated in the 1993 world senior championship, was on Canada's victorious 1991 Canada Cup team, and won gold (2002) and silver (1992) Olympic medals.
Nothing in his career topped the pride he felt playing for Canada, although he'd like to forget his shootout chance on Czech goalie Dominik Hasek during the 1998 Olympic semifinals.
"Off Dom and off the post and we're (going) home," he said. "If there was one thing I wish did happen it would be for that puck to be in the net."
He ruffled a lot of feathers when he refused to join the Quebec Nordiques after they made him the first pick in the 1991 entry draft, and he said he'd do it again. This time, he'd explain his position better, he said, reiterating that he's not anti-French.
"It had nothing to do with the city, the culture," he said. "The girl I'm dating right now, her name is Monique Paris, and her dad's name is Jacques.
"I bought a fish camp up in Quebec. (Refusing to join the Nordiques) had to do with ownership. It was something that had not been done in the past and people were not used to it."
All of which made it a tough thing to sell to hockey fans at the time. He's always maintained that he felt ownership wasn't committed to building a winning team there, and a few years later the franchise shifted to Denver.
Lindros is expected to join the staff of the NHLPA as an ombudsman for the players. Player reps will hold a conference call Sunday to make a decision.
"I'd like to do it," he said. "I think it would be a great job to begin with. Looking at the likes of Ted Lindsay and Carl Brewer and so many people who have stepped up for others in the association and in the NHL, there's a momentum that carries through and it would be a privilege to represent the guys in our association."
It wouldn't be a full-time job but it would keep his foot in the hockey door, he said.
He was asked if he'd ever consider returning to the NHL in a coaching capacity.
"No, not a chance," he stated emphatically.
But he plans to keep playing, joking Thursday that he'd signed "a five-year contract to play Monday nights in the Toronto area."
"Unlike the NHL, all terms and conditions don't need to be discussed," he said. "The pace may be a little bit slower but the rest of the game will remain the same, including the most important reason to play the game - to have fun."